Once upon a time you or your company built a website, or you had one designed and developed around all of your needs and wants. Finally! The important information was all in one place. Clients raved. And you went about your work in a more efficient way. But…
Just how long has it been?
How long have you or your company leaned on your current website? Sure your website looks the same to you as it did last year or the year before that. It still has all of the necessary information available to anyone who visits the page, right? Not exacly. Don’t be fooled,
The impact of your current website is steadily diminishing
Yes, you are represented by the same website that “wowed ‘em” a few years back. The problem is time. Technology never stops raising the bar, companies never stop rushing to offer bigger, better , faster, more, and as the possibilities continue to change,
The expectations of your clients and customers are shifting
The freshness of a site is the first to go. The authority with which your website speaks slowly starts to dwindle. The attention it commands begins to slip. The number of clients moving beyond the home page is negatively impacted. The number of clients staying long enough to result in meaningful engagements is falling off. That can only mean
Your bottom line is shrinking
Your standout products and service aren’t being equally served. Your company could really benefit from a boost of fresh energy. You want to do better. You need to do better,
You can do better
Take a deep breath. There’s no need to panic. The last thing you want to do is rush a decision that could potentially just make things worse. Your current website is going to serve as a fine placeholder while you consider your options. Every day plenty of companies, artisans, and artists find themselves right where you are.
A redesign is going to reenergize your brand
You need to find a web designer/developer that is right for you, and that understands your vision. You need someone you can partner with to creatively deliver what you need and at the right price. You need a site that you can work after it is launched to extend the life of your site as long as possible.
Help is available
You have individual needs, but you can be confident that there is an agency that will fit you well no matter what they might be. But don’t take any shortcuts at the outset. Just like every other service industry, there are shady deals, bad designers, and top dollar disappointments. You get what you pay for. Do your research. Identify sites you love, ask for good recommendations, and read case studies on agency websites. Get ready to show who you are, what you are looking for, and what kind of budget you are working with. When it’s time to start reaching out to companies,
Start by asking the right questions
You deserve to know who and what you are paying for. Don’t assume what services are included or that every design agency operates in the same way, or even in a professional manner. In anticipation of the different answers you might get, you also need to be prepared to
Know how to assess the answers
Every company and every agency is a little bit different. Every site design and build is a little different. Success means finding someone you don’t just hire, but that you can partner with to see the project through. You need to be prepared to measure the answers you get from potential agencies against the goals you and your company have for your site redesign. Your website is the face of your brand. You want to be confident that you are putting it in good hands and you should keep the dialogue going throughout the project.
Questions you are going to want to ask:
• What services do you offer?
Targeted specialists have value. Generalists have value. A master of website design might build great looking sites, but might not understand the intricacies of brand continuity. A firm that can service more of your needs (brand, logo, design, development, copywriting, marketing, collaterals) will save your budget by streamlining communication and production.
• How many websites have you built? Do you have samples/case studies?
Capabilities and experience are what matter. You want to see the kind of work they do, but you should refrain from judging the possibilities too harshly based on past clients. On the flip side, if you see work they have done that you like, there’s nothing wrong with asking how much it cost, if only to get a sense of the going rate for different kinds of site builds.
• Have you done a lot of work with brand standards?
Your website is an online extension of your brand. Is the agency you are talking to able to work with an existing brand or do they work better with more creative freedom? This is another great way to ask for examples and consider exactly what you want.
• Do you analyze my current metrics?
If you have existing site heading into a redesign, it’s important for the company you eventually hire to spend time with your current site to know what is and isn’t working. Pages that are strong should be migrated to the new site. SEO goodness should be preserved as much as possible. Harvesting the strengths you’ve got helps guarantee that the new site will outperform the old.
• What sort of budgets do you work with?
It’s good to come to the table with a budget, simply because you champion good ROI (Return On Investment). That means good value for your dollars, no matter if your budget is skimpy or bulging at the seams. If you are focused only on the dollar arrangement, you are in danger of losing value right out of the gate. A cost range is typical, driven by your list of your needs and their list of services, and there’s never harm in negotiating for an arrangement that benefits everyone.
• How does billing work?
Know the terms of their typical arrangements. What is up front and what isn’t? If the scope of the project changes, if estimates are off, if any number of delays or hurdles arise, how will billing be affected?
• How often are budgets exceeded?
Even more importantly, find out why budgets go over. You want to try and honor your budget by avoiding overages while also making budget allowances for unforeseen circumstances. Budget overages are often the result of delays in communication on the side of the company working with an agency, so know that part of the responsibility falls to you.
• Who will be working on my actual project?
In the beginning stages you might very well meet with people you like or who have done great work, only to be promptly handed off to a project manager you’ve never met. You might partner with a large agency, only to end up in the hands of junior designers. Conversely, at smaller companies, everyone tends to be involved in a project. Know what you want and express your preferences early on.
• Do you use subcontractors?
Some are really good, some are not. Some agencies use subcontractors because they do quality work and save time and budget. Other agencies will supplement work with less than top-shelf talent. If subcontractors work on your project and you need updates later, what are chances they are going to be available? Full time staff is generally ideal.
• How is the process/project managed?
Get an understanding of the workflow. What are the meetings that happen? Who is your main point of contact? How is communication handled? Not to mention the eventual launch and handoff. This is where every agency does things a little differently, so it’s fair to really make sure you have a handle on it.
• How long will the project take? What is the timeline?
Get a feel for the expected duration of the project. How often do projects run long and what are the usual causes? Understand your role in the timeline impacts. How much time will you have at the review stages? Know that if you miss a deadline, delays may be magnified if they are a smaller company working on other deadlines.
• What web platforms do you work with?
Be wary of custom builds. Tools like WordPress and Drupal are established and well-supported ecosystems, meaning you can always find people to work with them, make security patches, etc. They are good for SEO and blogs. If you currently operate on a particular platform and want to keep it, have the company assess and tell you if they would be comfortable working with it.
• What if I don’t like what I am seeing?
Know the ramifications of project. Know what the process will be if you are not happy at points along the way. A firm that bills hourly can more easily adapt to changes in direction, but of course it is going to cost you something. What will it mean if you cancel a portion or the whole project once it has begun?
• How do updates and maintenance work?
If the agency offers web hosting, know what ongoing updates and maintenance will look like, otherwise the transition will be a true handoff, and you will be responsible for keeping things up and running.
• Mobile: is it separate?
Understand how the agency builds sites. More people are finding your site on their phones than ever before, so knowing an agency’s approach to designing for mobile is important. Some agencies work with fixed break points so the design will look good from iphones to ipads to laptops.
• What browsers do you design to?
Depending on what you do and who your customers are, the browsers you want to support may be diff. B2B enterprises might care more about older browser compatibility. International mobile is more widespread. What browsers are important to your business? The browser an agency designs to will be more about the client than anything else.
• What kind of Quality Assurance/testing do you do?
It’s always good to know just how an agency operates in the way of testing. Most firms will include some. This is an area where you can potentially save some budget by taking on testing yourself. Know that bugs will happen. It is a normal part of the process.
• How do you roll out the new site?
Understand what the timing for launch will be like after the work is completed and signed off on. Knowing exactly what kind of support system will you need to have in place is critical.
Now that you have done the research, asked lots of questions, and assessed the answers, your new site is going to do wonders for your business.
P.S. – Every agency arrangement is going to be a little bit different. It always works better when you treat it as a functioning relationship with lots of healthy dialogue. Ask lots of questions, and be prepared to support the process and the professionals along the way. A beautiful, functioning website that serves you well is right around the corner!